Internet speeds 100 times faster today? Distributed wireless networks spanning the oceans and outer space? Those are some of the projects researchers are working on today to remake the world of computer networking. In coming years as IP addresses run out, telepresence technologies are adopted, the Internet of Things brings sensor networks to the enterprise, and work forces become more mobile and distributed, network admins could have some intriguing new possibilities and challenging demands for network technologies.
As we’ve written here before the Internet is running out of addresses. The problem is technically easy to solve: In 1998 the Internet Engineering Task Force introduced the IPv6 protocol, which will increase the number of possible IP addresses from 4 billion unique addresses to around “50 thousand trillion trillion addresses per person.” The challenge is adoption.
If a group of seafarers building their own international, decentralized Internet sounds far out – how about this: Google and NASA are building an interplanetary Internet.
, MIT researchers led by Joan and Irwin Jacobs are working on a solution to end the conversion of optical signals into electric signals within routers, thereby speeding up the Internet and using less power.
High-capacity optical fibers connect the planet’s routers together by passing very fast optical signals back and forth. But the routers have to convert those signals into electric signals in order to process them. The Jacobs’ team is trying to solve that problem with a solution called “flow switching.” Flow switching would establish dedicated paths between locations that exchange large amounts of traffic.Traffic would only flow in one direction along these dedicated paths, removing the need to process the signals – they could just be passed along.
Again, the biggest obstacle isn’t technical, it’s adoption. Flow switching would require replacing existing routers – an expensive process. But as demand for high-bandwidth services like streaming high-def video increases, it may start to make better economic sense.
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Social Mobile Ad-Hoc Networks
Posing more of a technical challenge is the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s interest in applying social networking theory to mobile ad-hoc networks, as reported in the UC Santa Cruz Review. UC Santa Cruz engineering professor J. J. Garcia-Luna-Aceves is one researcher developing the mathematical theories that would be necessary to create such mobile networks. From the article:
Currently, the researchers are exploring how to map a social network on top of a network infrastructure. For example, in a military setting, there’s a chain of command, which is a form of social network.
So the network needn’t require that every device be able to talk to every other device. Meanwhile, many military communication systems require a great deal of bandwidth, which also must be accounted for in the network architecture.
The work would have applications beyond a military settings; for example, it could apply to sensor networks and the Internet of Things where not every object needs to connect to the Internet but do need to network with each other.
Openet’s Government-less Mesh Network
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Openet, a sub-project of the open_sailing organization. Open_sailing is a distributed group with lofty ambitions toward sea-faring societies headed up by Cesar Harada.
Harada told us that the inspiration for Openet stems from rumors that the U.S. government considered shutting down the GPS network after 9/11 – a move that would have left many people who depend on the service lost and stranded. Harada and others began thinking about how to create a global data network that couldn’t be shut down by individual nations or companies. Openet’s website poses the following questions:
Are we free on the internet ?
Can we create an infrastructure-less internet? An Infrastructure-less civilization?
What happens today if the internet shuts down?
What happens if there is a World War 3, or any major destructive conflict, or natural catastrophy?
What would happen if the entire world was “data-covered”?
Do we need the companies, the states, the militaries to organise and moderate it?
Can we can build a true civilian internet?
Do we want to? What are we afraid of?
Openet embraces well-established solutions: packet radio for establishing long distance wireless connections and mesh networking for building decentralized local wireless networks. Openet aims to create an international network of mesh networks stitched together with packet radio.
It may sound like a utopian project, but companies and organizations with employees in the field in remote areas may find some of these ideas useful in the near term.
Delay-Tolerant Networking and Google’s Interplanetary Internet
If a group of seafarers building their own international, decentralized Internet sounds far out – how about this: Google and NASA are building an interplanetary Internet. Delay-Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol, unlike TCP/IP, does not need a continuous connection to function, making it possible to network situations with extreme latency – like outer space.
DARPA has also been funding DTN research for decades. The technology could be of use for creating mobile ad-hoc networks.
Photo by lco.